After months of keeping my phone unlocked, I tried the Galaxy S8's futuristic security features -- here's what I thought

SamsungThe winter weather can make using certain smartphone unlock features a challenge.

  • Samsung’s premium smartphones have several different security features.
  • After many months of leaving my Galaxy S8 with no unlock features set, I decided to give some another try.
  • Iris scanning and facial recognition have proven cumbersome in the winter weather, but t he oddly-placed fingerprint sensor isn’t bad once you get used to it.

I’ve owned a Galaxy S8 since April 2017, but for several months, I didn’t use any of the phone’s security features to unlock my phone. Recently, though, I decided to give them another try. Here’s how it went.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 has six ways to unlock your phone: a fingerprint scanner, an iris scanner, a facial recognition system, as well as the more standard PIN, password, and pattern-unlock features. For the past two weeks, I’ve chosen the fingerprint sensor, iris scanner and a PIN code as my main three options to unlock my phone.

When I first got the Galaxy S8, I flip-flopped between the iris scanner and facial recognition systems (you can’t have both set at the same time). Facial recognition works like a dream in ideal conditions, but limitations quickly arise: It doesn’t fare well in darkly-lit areas and the Galaxy S8 must be held directly in front of your face to identify you. Holding the phone in a slanted position can affect its ability to recognise your face.

The iris scanner, on the other hand, presents you with a frame to let you align your eyes with the sensor. Under the right conditions, the iris scanner can authenticate you before the frame even has a chance to appear. Overall, it fails slightly less than facial recognition.

The second run

I don’t like feeling like there’s a wall between me and my home screen, period. There’s nothing more immediate than swiping directly into your device, which can make authentication failures frustrating. If the iris scanner fails, I can tap the screen to reactivate the frame and try again, or just enter my PIN, but all of this time adds up when you’re unlocking your phone dozens of times a day.

This is why, for most of the time I’ve had the Galaxy S8, I’ve usually left it unlocked.

Of all the various security features, though, I favour the Galaxy S8’s rear-facing fingerprint scanner. The feature has been heavily criticised due to its odd placement, but it isn’t so bad once you get used to it – but you do have to get used to it. I have an app that allows me to use a PIN or my fingerprint to log in, and I’ve found my fingerprint to be the fastest method. I rarely experience failures.

I’ve also found having a smartphone case helps me quickly identify the fingerprint scanner. Once my finger hits the right edge of the cutout, which exposes the camera and fingerprint scanner, I know where to place my finger. The device is particularly easy to use with your left hand, due to the location of the fingerprint sensor being to the right of the camera (if you’re looking at the back of the phone).

Unlocking my Galaxy S8 during New York’s winter season has had its own special challenges. My glasses constantly fogging up axes the iris scanner, while below-freezing temperatures can make the fingerprint scanner and the back up PIN a no-go, especially if you’re wearing gloves.

Options outside of screen unlock

Still, despite my complaints about the Galaxy S8’s security features, there are some clever built-in solutions.

Since the Galaxy S8 is an Android phone, it has Smart Lock settings, which let the phone identify when it is safe to remain unlocked. These options include “On-body detection,” which keeps the phone unlocked while it’s being handled by the owner; “Trusted places,” which keeps the phone unlocked while in certain registered locations; and “Trusted devices,” which keeps the phone unlocked while paired with certain nearby devices. I’ve made use of Trusted Places and my Galaxy S8 remains unlocked while I’m at home and at the gym.

While running this experiment, I’ve wondered on several occasions: “Do we need our devices to be this secure?” It’s true, all of our most private information is stored on these devices, but we live in an age where things still get hacked and vulnerabilities are found regardless of how many security measures are put in place. This was my rationale for leaving my Galaxy S8 unlocked for several months in the first place.

That said, the many security options afforded to smartphone users do have the some merit. As I previously mentioned, I have my fingerprints set up to unlock certain applications on my phone I feel need that extra security. Perhaps the simple function of unlocking a device doesn’t need to be that challenging, but there should be a wall of protection between certain sensitive in-app information and the data-hungry outside world.

My secure future

Using the Galaxy S8’s security features isn’t nearly as annoying as it was two weeks ago when I started this experiment, but I do see myself removing them sometime in the future. I plan to keep them set for now, as my paranoia has heightened as of the publishing of this piece. Perhaps I’ll return to my old favourite pattern unlock.

Overall, though, I do recommend at least registering some or all of the security features on your smartphone, so it’s just a matter of turning them on whenever you’re ready to use them. Whether you’re unlocking your phone, or authenticating an app or service, or paying for goods, having a plethora of security options is the new normal.

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